The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

USDA and EPA Pushing Coal Ash for Growing Crops

Toxic Contamination Risks Spread through Soil and Fertilizer Applications


The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection
Agency are asking farmers to use coal ash to grow their crops, despite
a paucity of research on possible risks, according to documents
released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
(PEER). USDA endorses use of coal combustion wastes by farmers "for
crop production" while acknowledging uncertainty on the extent to which
"toxic elements" are absorbed into produce entering the market.

month, USDA enters the final year of a three-year partnership with the
Environmental Protection Agency as part of a larger effort by the
American Coal Ash Association, the Electric Power Research Institute
and others to "promote appropriate increased use of" coal ash in
agriculture. The implementing Memorandum of Understanding obliges USDA
to generate "documentation of the effectiveness, safety and
environmental benefits, including bioavailability of trace elements
such as mercury, arsenic and satisfy the concerns of
producers, generators, regulators and the public."

According to
EPA, agriculture annually uses more than 180,000 tons of coal ash and
other coal combustion byproducts. There are no federal standards
governing agricultural applications of coal ash. EPA has publicly vowed
to promulgate hazardous waste rules by the end of 2009 for coal ash,
one year after last December's disastrous coal ash spills from
Tennessee Valley Authority sludge ponds.

"USDA should pull out
of the coal ash business tomorrow morning," stated PEER Executive
Director Jeff Ruch, who obtained the documents under the Freedom of
Information Act. "USDA does American agriculture no favors by duping
farmers into spreading hazardous wastes across their fields."

an April 2, 2009 letter to EPA, USDA Agricultural Research Service
Deputy Administrator Steven Shafer expressed "ARS interest" in
exploring greater use of coal combustion wastes in crop production as a
fertilizer treatment and soil amendment. His letter cites current
application of coal ash in growing corn, tomatoes, alfalfa, peanuts,
and other crops. While generally sanguine about coal ash use, Shafer
concedes that the "long-term effects...remain a subject of research."

EPA promotional materials state that EPA and "USDA support the use of"
coal combustion byproducts "in appropriate soil and hydrogeologic
conditions as an effective method of soil conservation and industrial
material recycling."

"The public does not want its food to
come from 'industrial material recycling' any more than it wants
coal-flavored cauliflower," Ruch added. "This coal ash re-use campaign
is really just a multi-billion dollar backdoor subsidy to the coal
industry to relieve it of the true costs of handling its toxic wastes."

Read the USDA-EPA coal ash Memorandum of Understanding

See the ARS letter on coal ash research

Look at USDA "talking points" on its efforts

View EPA promotional materials

Examine the EPA Coal Ash partnership

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.